Tech Contractors’ Tips for Identifying Good Clients

Working with great clients who will value your input, pay on time, and provide clear requirements is essential to your success and satisfaction as a freelance tech professional.

The tricky part is distinguishing the good clients from the bad before you accept an assignment. To help you hone your selection skills, we asked two long-term contractors what they look for when evaluating potential clients.

Inclusion and Effective Utilization of Skills

The best customers value wisdom and experience, said Adam Coti, who has worked exclusively as a freelance web developer for more than 20 years: “They treat me like a trusted advisor, not a commodity or body who is only there to write front-end code.”

Good clients are often relatively easy to spot, especially in the early stages. They solicit your opinions during pre-engagement meetings or interviews, and listen to your suggestions. They also make contractors feel like part of the team by including them in discussions about planning, style and design. It’s also a good sign when clients ask about your goals and what else you have to offer, and what you’ll need to get the project done on time.

Clear Goals

Watch out for clients who take a “ready – fire – aim” approach to projects, especially if you typically charge a fixed or flat fee for your services. These nightmare clients invariably request endless edits, changes and features not included in the original quote.

The best clients provide clear project goals and an accurate picture of the end-user and the work that needs to be accomplished. Plus, they are able to set and articulate reasonable expectations; because after all, even the most experienced tech pro can’t hit a moving target.

“I tend to avoid clients who don’t know what they want,” noted Colleen Schnettler, owner and primary developer at Bitmapped Designs. “If they aren’t sure, I charge them for a discovery session to find out the requirements.”

The best clients understand that changing requirements will almost always result in a cost increase, Schnettler added.

Another red flag is a disorganized and/or inexperienced PM, Coti warned: “Because no matter how talented you are, a contractor is only as good as the person leading the project.”

Contractor Autonomy

Once the requirements are established, the ideal clients give contractors leeway in choosing their approach. To avoid hyper-controlling clients, watch out for managers who obsess over details, and be sure to ask about the degree of autonomy you’ll have before you accept an assignment.

Prompt Payment

Receiving payment for services in a reasonable amount of time was a criterion deemed most important by over 1,200 freelancers surveyed for Kalo’s 50 Best Companies to Freelance For.

To avoid wasting valuable time chasing down late payments, experienced contractors such as Schnettler charge a retainer fee up front. Always discuss payment schedules in advance and put everything in writing.

Respectful and Easy to Work With

To keep difficult customers from calling on weekends or the middle of the night, Schnettler discloses her normal working hours up-front and in contracts. She also looks for flexibility in terms of scheduling and a positive, upbeat attitude. But frankly, both contractors admit they rely on gut feelings shaped by past experiences when deciding whether a client will be easy or difficult to work with.

“During slow times, it can be tempting to ignore the red flags and accept a project from a difficult client, but it’s not worth it,” Coti said. “Go with your gut and enjoy the time off, or you could find yourself dealing with a nightmare client.”